Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Robin Clifford 
Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Laura Clifford 

Every kid knows the fairytale story about little Red-Riding Hood (Ann Hathaway), her Granny (Glenn Close), the Big Bad Wolf (Patrick Warburton) and the heroic Woodsman (Jim Belushi). Filmmakers Cory and Todd Edwards turn the tale on its head as they show the “true” aftermath of the “what big eyes you have” incident in “Hoodwinked.”

Things start out on a normal fairytale note as L’il Red visits her grandma with a basket full of goodies. The Wolf has taken Granny’s place in order to get Red’s goods but, before he can take advantage of the youngster, the Woodsman arrives to save the day. The domestic disturbance, though, attracts the Law and all the players in this little drama are placed under arrest.

As the cops, led by Chief Grizzly (Xzibit), delve into the commotion, the possible crimes are numerous: the illegal wielding of an axe, breaking and entering, disturbing the peace and, most sinister, intent to eat. It’s up to the Chief, his officers (the Three Pigs) and Inspector Nicky Flippers (David Ogden Stiers) to get to the bottom of the confusing case.

The Edwards boys take Red-Riding Hood’s story beyond the fairytale into the realm of True Crime tales. Told in “Rashomon”-style, we get the suspects’ story from their various points of view. Each of the four has their own version about what happened with all putting their own spin on what really happened. This is a clever idea and, in more experienced hands, could have been a biting bit of animated satire.

In the hands of the co-directors/co-writers, Hoodwinked” is a sometimes amusing but uneven comedy that tries to appeal to an all-ages crowd. But, it is definitely geared to an older demographic than the kiddies it is sure to attract. Pithy contempo references abound, evoking many chuckles but few belly laughs. Again, more experienced comedy scribes would have made for a better, funnier work. It’s a good idea not fully mined for its comic potential.

The vocal talents involved do yeoman’s work, giving a bit of personality to all of the characters. Besides the principals – Hathaway, Close, Warburton and Belushi give good voice and make the best of the so-so script, especially Warburton as the Wolf – there are such notables as Ogden Stiers (who was terrific voicing Dr. Jumba Jookiba in “Lilo & Stitch”), Chazz Palminteri, Anthony Anderson and Andy Dick. These vocal talents make “Hoodwinked” a bit better than it ought to be.

The animation is simplistic by today’s standards so don’t expect state-of-the-art digital anime the likes of “Shrek.” It’s a little cleverer than the ho-hum Shark’s Tale” but I would have loved to see what Pixar could have done with the material. I give it a C+.

As police encircle Granny's (Glenn Close, "Nine Lives") cottage, where Red (Anne Hathaway, "Brokeback Mountain"), the Woodsman (James Belushi, "Return to Me," TV's "According to Jim") and the Wolf (Patrick Warburton, TV's "Seinfeld," "The Tick," "Men in Black II") are all being held as suspects, it seems obvious what has happened.  Until, that is,  Detective Nicky Flippers (David Ogden Stiers, TV's "M*A*S*H," "Lilo & Stitch") arrives to take a statement from all four and proves that everyone has been "Hoodwinked!"

Cowriter/codirectors Cory Edwards, Todd Edwards and Tony Leech, working under the new banner of Kanbar Animation Studio, may have aimed for the heights of "Shrek," but land like a SCUD missile.  This curiously flat exercise features one great character - the pivotal green equalizer Flippers - and one great vocal performance - Warburton's reinterpreted Wolf - but fails in just about every other aspect, from its amateur animation to its thinly disguised borrowings.

"Shrek's" deconstructed fairly tale influence is felt immediately, when a crime scene reporter shoves a microphone towards a cop to ask if Granny's house is made of gingerbread. Perhaps because "Little Red Riding Hood's" villainous wolf wanted something to eat, all the denizens of this 'hood seem to earn their living selling foodstuffs.  Red is the distributor of Granny's muffins, the recipe for which is zealously guarded, and The Woodsman makes his living driving a schnitzel stick truck.  As Red tells her side of the story, we're told of other woodland critters whose livelihoods have been squashed by that notorious recipe thief, the 'Goody bandit.' In "Rashomon" fashion, as each suspect tells his or her side of the tale, overlapping truths reveal new ones.

"Hoodwinked!'s" brand of wit features cops that are actually pigs and a sideways swipe at film critics.  The secrets of its main characters are stereotypical stretches - a nanny addicted to extreme sports, a wolf as investigative journalist, a big dumb guy with acting aspirations (who Belushi voices with Ah-nuld-like inflection).  What could have been a searing satire on the gobbling up of cottage industry is instead a cacophony whose villain is easily identifiable as the furry common denominator who keeps showing up for no apparent reason.

Mickey Flippers, visualized like a Southern film noir version of Michigan J. Frog (if he had a small white dog), is such a great character it's almost depressing to find him in the midst of this mire.  None of the other characters is as inventive.  Japeth the Goat's use of horns like a Swiss Army knife is mildly diverting, but a hyperactive squirrel turned secret weapon with caffeine  (Twitchy, voiced by Cory Edwards) is merely a ripoff of "Ice Age's" Scrat. Red isn't particularly appealing and, with the exception of a too briefly seen hummingbird, none of the background players make any impression.

The characters are created with several year old CGI technology, but at least they're more convincing than their landscapes - a flowing river is jarring in its fakery.  Another scene and its environs seems like a flatter, warmed over bit from Disney's under loved "Home on the Range."  None of the film's songs are memorable in the least.

"Hoodwinked!" may sound like a good idea, but if you go to see it, you may leave feeling snookered.


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